Where Tim Cook Goes, the Industry Follows

May 30, 2012
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Like it or not - approve of Apple or otherwise - but when CEO speaks he shapes the direction of the whole electronics industry. Cook's appearance at the All Things D event this week wasn't the first time the chief exec has taken the stage at a high-profile event, but if past evidence is anything to go by, his comments will already be causing ripples among an industry that's by turns envious, admiring and aggressively anti the Apple behemoth.

Cook may lack some of the instant magnetism of his predecessor Steve Jobs - about whom Cook described as having a "gift" for swiftly changing peoples' opinions - but the scale of Apple's place in the industry likely fills in any gaps in instant gravitas. Apple's products, particularly in mobile, obviously set much of the tone for the market as a whole, but it was best-practice not best-gadgets that fell under the spotlight.

One of the most contentious aspects of Cook's appearance was the chief exec's comments on "Made In America" production, and how he would like Apple to move back to a point where at least some manufacture was done within the US. He was cautious in what he could be perceived to be promising, however. "We decided a decade ago that there were things Apple could do best" Cook said, "and that there were other things that somebody else can do as well or better. Manufacturing was one of those. I think that’s still true."

[aquote]How much Cook can actually change is questionable[/aquote]

Exactly how much Cook - and Apple as a whole - will be able to change the pattern of the electronics industry in that is questionable. As soundbites go, it's likely to go down well in headlines but struggle to find traction in the real world. And just as Cook pointed out, Apple's US-based manufacturing is predominantly in specific high-tech components - the A5 and A6 chips for the iPhone and iPad, for instance - rather than the sort of low-cost assembly in which cheap labor in China and elsewhere has cornered the market.

"We're going to double down on secrecy in products" Cook said of Apple's attitude toward service and device development, though the biggest shift for the electronics segment as a whole could have been signposted nonetheless. If Apple's stance can convince consumers (and rivals) that homegrown devices are a spec point worth paying for, expect increased focus on where our gadgets come from - and who exactly put them together - then it could prove to be a bigger change than even the iPhone, the iPod and the iPad.

There's a full round-up of Cook's appearance this week here.


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